Mar 17, 2017
If there is one subject that people in business are assumed to know how to do, it is how to develop relationships with other professionals such that they become great referral sources. These assumptions are made by the few people who have figured it out and who have not had to show many others how to succeed at it long term!
Clearly if this really were so straightforward, far more people would get more business from other professionals. Sure, most people are okay setting up and having an initial meeting with a potential centre of influence but don’t know where to take it from there.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a simple step-by-step guide on how to do it so here it is:
1. Mine your current network
First dig even deeper with people you already know. What would you love to ask some of them? Surely there are people you could be introduced to via their LinkedIn? There may be organisations they belong to that would be worth investigating. Ask for referrals from them to people/professions missing from your network.
2. Grow your current network – fish where the fish are
When it’s clear you have gaps, the solution is to spend time where the people you want to meet can be found OR where you can meet referral sources into that demographic. Professional associations might work if you’re targeting one industry. There are networking groups for people new to business and for people who only want introductions to CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. I’ve attended them all and most types of groups in between.
3. Schedule 1:1 meetings to see if there’s a fit
The easiest way to organise these at large group events is to state your desire to meet that person before they leave. This makes following up much more effective.
Otherwise it comes down to having wording you’re comfortable with: “I’d like to grab coffee some time and learn more about your business. Hopefully there are some ways we can help each other.” That’s why I like networking groups because no explanation is necessary; it’s part of the culture.
The good news is everybody is so busy that you don’t need to waste too much time getting to the point of “let’s talk business.”
4. Make small talk
While small talk is not for everyone, it IS for YOU if you want to put the other person at his ease! A couple of minutes enquiring about his weekend, hometown, the weather, sports, the traffic or how you were referred to one another is the safest place to kick off.
Failure to build some rapport can sometimes assure that no business will be done because the other person will feel like he can’t refer someone he hasn’t had a chance to get to know (or like).
5. Make a personal connection: Find common ground
It sounds like a bit of a sales technique to suggest you find common ground but research done by Robert Cialdini since the 1980’s shows that it makes quite a big difference to your chances of doing business together.
Start with who or what connected you in the first place (membership in the same organisation?), then see if you have lived in the same area, like the same sport, have similar hobbies, have children who are a similar age, or read the same books. It’s worth a try even if it sounds a bit shallow or seemingly irrelevant to your core products or service. It can create emotional bonds. I recall one past client that I connected to much more quickly when we discovered that he went to the same school as my father – so irrelevant to business but it made a real difference.
6. Be extremely interested
Even if you’re meeting with an ‘A’ type personality, try to steer the conversation to her business and her interests. You’ll find that meetings almost always have a more favourable outcome. Ask open-ended questions. Ask for her opinions.
Being an interested person is one of the few character traits that almost all top sales professionals have in common.
Weave between business and personal topics. For every two mini-topics about business, mix it up with a question about her family, interests or favourite (fill in the blank: holiday destination, health spa, dog walking spot etc).
Also, listen more than you talk. Listening builds trust and shows you care enough to learn. You’re not there to pitch anything. Not yet anyway!
7. Be a resource: GIVE: Seek ways to add value to them.
You have to earn the right to ask for what you want. The question to ask yourself is: how can I most add value to this person? You must bring value to the table that puts more water in the well in that relationship. 2
Certainly, being referred in by an enthusiastic fan will give you a great head start. Either way, focus on giving first. Even though 25% of the people you meet will be seeking extrinsic rewards from your relationship, and most will want some kind of tangible value, I would not recommend being overt about wanting a quid quo pro (tit for tat) relationship. It is a limiting mindset.
8. Start Fishing: Find out if they know the right people
Everyone talks a good game over business coffees, lunches and drinks after hours.
But it is crucial that you know as early as possible whether the person you’re meeting with can open bigger and better doors for you. The world is full of really nice people to have chats with. But most of these really nice people will drink your coffee and refer you zilch.
Ask them where they get their clients and get a sense of where they meet people. One banker I know asks people about their favourite TV shows. If the list is long, he can tell this person is very busy on the couch not with business development!
9. Determine how driven they are
The hungriest professionals are the best ones for referral sources. Try to find out how responsible he is for bringing in business. Ask about his goals. If rainmaking is a peripheral role for him, it is not a good sign -unless all he needs is someone in your profession to refer clients to. Since you’re looking for hunters, also pay attention to how optimistic the person is and how competitive they are – these are two other key success qualities for hunters.
I repeat: Everyone talks a good game over business coffees, lunches and drinks after hours. Unfortunately, most people are either too busy to be really interested, do not walk their talk afterwards, or don’t know how to build business relationships and are not willing to persist long enough to develop the skills!
10. Learn where you stand because of your vocation.
How they have worked with people in your vocation before? Do they have any current relationships? Do they refer to other professionals? Asking these questions could help you avoid wasting two years on a relationship that was never going to get off the ground because this ‘prospective COI’ already had significant loyalty to someone else.
11. Does this person have the potential to be a pretty good friend?
You must recall people you have either chased as COIs or as prospects that you really didn’t even like – and what a waste of time that was.
The vast majority of people I’ve met over the years who tell me about their best referral sources almost always tell me: “You know what’s funny, Matt, is that we’ve become quite good friends.”
12. Identify reasons to meet again (right from the start of the first meeting)
Perhaps the biggest stumbling block most professionals run into is not knowing how to set up a second meeting after the first one. This should be your main goal – set up a second meeting.
The way to avoid this awkwardness is to find a good reason to meet up again before the meeting is over. If you know why you’re meeting someone, and spend the meeting seeking ways to help this person in the near future, you will find it much easier to have valid reasons to meet up again.
Presumably you are both seeking more business and seeking others to build relationships with people that you like.
“What can I do for you? How can I help you? What type of business are you looking for?” are all questions that are going to help you move the conversation forward.
13. Test the waters
This step is crucial. Even during a first meeting, find a reason for each of you to follow up. This can be something non-threatening such as requesting she email you the book title, event or website she mentioned that sounded interesting to you. It could even be something relating to a hobby.
80% of the time, the other person will show her true colours after the meeting is over based on how quickly (or slowly) she responds. Often she will either communicate unwittingly “I’m interested in building a business relationship with you” or “Treat this slow response time as a red flag!”
Ignore this step at your peril! Talk is cheap.
14. Follow up promptly (ideally with added value), keep in touch, meet consistently
Depending on your livelihood, I’d suggest getting together at least four times/year. Much of this is going to depend on how much value each of you gets from meeting up. Much less than four times though and you will likely be forgotten unless you’re communicating in other ways. Staying top of mind is enormously important in order to expect consistent referrals.
15. Ask for what you want: WHO and HOW
NOW it’s your turn to communicate to your potential referral source who you want to be introduced to and how they can best refer you.
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Author: Matt Anderson, The Referral Authority, Author of Fearless Referrals.